CLOSE-UP: GLOBAL BRIEF; Rover finds success in Japan

Foreign cars are enjoying an increase in popularity, Michael Fitzpatrick writes

Foreign cars are enjoying an increase in popularity, Michael Fitzpatrick


Carmakers’ autumn advertising and sales campaigns have peaked in Japan,

just as sales figures show foreign imports are picking up at the expense

of domestic cars.

It’s a broad trend and it conceals another set of preferences held by

the average Japanese consumer - the move to low-priced European

compacts, rather than models made by the US big three - Ford, General

Motors and Chrysler.

The Americans have all launched major ad campaigns in Japan after

deciding to market right-hand drive cars for the first time, but sales

have been disappointing.

‘It is hard to erase the popular impression that American cars are

bulky, fragile, gas-guzzlers,’ one executive at the Ford Motor Company

in Japan complains.

So, increasingly, advertising for US brands has begun to reflect the

preferences of Japanese consumers while still retaining an emphasis on

the vehicles’ American flavour. One US car, the Neon, pitches itself as

a softer, friendlier sort of American. Ironically, the media has dubbed

it the ‘Japanese car-killer’ because it is seen as the only serious

threat to the country’s own brands from the US. However, Neon’s sales

stood at a meagre 605 units by the end of August.

The Europeans have an altogether more laid-back approach and find it

easier to sell their cars on the back of European stylishness and


One of the biggest success stories is Rover Japan, whose sales hit

25,000 last year. It used to rely on a global strategy, but more

recently it has also employed Japan’s number two agency, Hakuhodo.

Brian Yamamoto, of Rover Japan’s marketing department, comments: ‘Rover

likes to emphasise its Britishness. Our car campaigns here are more

image-driven than you would find in the US or the UK. We emphasise the

craftsmanship, or the heritage, depending on the brand.’


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